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"Glee" Actor Harry Shum Jr. Joins Thousands Of Children For Blue Ribbon Festival

Piya Sinha-Roy |
April 7, 2011 | 2:33 p.m. PDT

Senior Entertainment Editor


"Glee" actor Harry Shum Jr. joined thousands of fifth-graders on Tuesday to kick off the Blue Ribbon Children's Festival (Photo by Piya Sinha-Roy)
"Glee" actor Harry Shum Jr. joined thousands of fifth-graders on Tuesday to kick off the Blue Ribbon Children's Festival (Photo by Piya Sinha-Roy)
“Glee” star Harry Shum Jr. joined thousands of Los Angeles County fifth-graders to perform a Native American inspired dance to kick off the annual Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday morning.

Shum stomped his feet and swirled his arms with more than 3,000 children on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a choreographed routine derived from performing arts dance troupe Diavolo. 

The children helped kick off the 41st Annual Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival by watching a special performance by Diavolo, a contemporary dance group founded by Jacques Heim. The children then performed a dance that incorporated some of Diavolo’s trademark movements, which they have been learning in their schools over the past few weeks, on the pavilion outside the Music Center.

“The idea is to give them this magical arts experience,” said Mark Slavkin, vice president of education at the Music Center. 

Each year, The Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival invites fifth-graders from all public, private and charter schools to watch a free performance at one of the Music Center’s four venues. 

This year, the three-day event will see more than 18,000 children from 245 public, private and charter schools come to the Music Center to watch a special performance by Diavolo, before performing their own dance on the pavilion.

Shum, who plays Mike Chang on Fox’s hit musical show “Glee,” lent his support to the opening day festivities. 

“I didn’t dance until high school, and this is great for these kids to know that they can be part of this,” said Shum. 

“It’s a wonderful extra treat to have a young role model, and a male role model, who can really just embody the fact that the arts matter, that dance matters and that dance is for everybody, boys and girls,” added Slavkin enthusiastically.

Last year, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a 24.8 percent cut in arts funding, particularly aimed at grants for arts programs in Los Angeles County. This cut saw arts funding in schools severely affected.

“Glee shows the reality of a school club always struggling to make it past the budget cuts,” said Shum. “I’m hoping that it changes but it is what is happening right now as a lot of schools are cutting arts education, and I think it’s just as important as math or science.”

While the event has been held annually for the past 40 years, the city budget cuts for arts funding was one of the key factors behind getting the children to participate in the choreographed dance over the three-day festival. 

Meadow Green Elementary fifth-graders Erin and Milly, both self-confessed “Gleeks,” (the name attached to fans of “Glee”) squealed with excitement after they performed their dance and ran up to meet Shum. 

“It was so cool to be here today,” said Erin. “I already do dance lessons, but I want to keep doing more.”

Constance Towers Gavin, the president of The Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival and an established stage and screen actress herself, hoped that The Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival would continue to inspire children to get more involved with the performing arts.

“We hope the children were entertained, and that somehow, their eyes were opened to this world of performing arts, because it’s more important now than it ever has been due to the programs being cut in schools,” said Constance Towers Gavin. 

The participants at this year’s Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival will also receive a keepsake book entitled “A Journey Through The Music Center.” The book, funded by a $1-million gift from Blue Ribbon member Maxine Dunitz, explores the four venues of the Music Center as well as giving children more information on the performing arts. 

As the children crowded together on the plaza trying to get a glimpse of the “Glee” actor, one boy held back shyly as his friends raced to get Shum’s autograph.

“It was cool, I guess,” said Nick, a fifth-grader from Valley Beth Shalom Day School. “I liked the dance we just did, it was easy.” 

When asked if he would like to dance again, Nick vigorously shakes his gel-coiffed head defiantly. “I like other things, maybe sports,” said the fifth-grader.

“It needs a representative to show that it’s not just a girl thing to do, not only girls can dance,” said Shum, in reference to the lack of representation of dance within the male youth community.  

“I got dared to audition for dancing in high school, and it was a joke that became a passion,” revealed the “Glee” actor. “More guys started to join as they realized they could dance like a male and be masculine.”

As the yellow school buses slowly packed up with enthusiastic fifth-graders and headed back to their respective schools for afternoon classes, Shum stayed behind to sign autographs for some straggling students and perform impromptu dance moves. 

“It’s just meant so much for the children, and they’ll go home and talk about that,” said Gavin, as the “Glee” actor finally left. “You just don’t know if a child might be a little bit troubled, and this may be the one spark of inspiration for them to take another road in their life.” 

Reach Senior Entertainment Editor Piya Sinha-Roy here, and follow her on Twitter @PiyaSRoy



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